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LESSER KNOWN WORKS

‘No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea’ – John Donne

In this item, we want to highlight some of the wonderful novels English literature has to offer, but which are sadly underappreciated by or unknown to the general public.

Romesh Gunesekara – Reef

Described as a twentieth-century version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Reef is a must-read for all of you who like narratives that overflow with exoticness and sensuality. Its protagonist is a young boy named Triton, who gets a job working for Mr Salgado, a Sri Lankan marine biologist. The novel is essentially a Bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story set in hot, humid Sri Lanka. It tells the story of how Triton, starting out as a bullied elevenyear-old, grows up by mirroring himself to his master. This becomes clear when Mr Salgado brings home Nili, a woman who has a powerful sway over both Salgado and Triton and they both become slightly obsessed with her. The story tells us a servant’s life; Triton starts out as one of three, but soon he replaces the other two and becomes Mr Salgado’s only employee. The wonderful descriptions of Triton’s preparation of food for his master are mouth watering and adds to the novel a sense of the foreign, unknown and exotic. The development of Triton’s cooking and housekeeping skills not only mark his path towards adulthood, but also towards independence from Mr Salgado. The Sri Lankan narrative is quite literally an island, as the novel begins and ends in England – both Triton’s and the author’s adopted home. This is not the only island metaphor – they are scattered throughout the novel. The inherent island-ness of Sri Lanka is important for the novel’s political background. While that keeps a low profile throughout the narrative, it is there always and a driving force for some of the action. Western influence on the island is a theme that is discussed several times in the novel.

Read this if:

- you like novels set in exotic foreign places;
- you have an eye for symbolism and metaphors, especially those related to the ocean;
- you like rich and sensual descriptions of food, people and the ocean’s biology.

Don’t read this if:

- you don’t have any patience reading long, descriptive passages;
- you don’t like by coming-of-age stories;
- you don’t like reading, full-stop.


The hard facts
Title: Reef
Author: Romesh Gunesekara
Number of pages: 192
Year of publication: 1994
Where can I buy it?: bol.com has it, search for ‘Romesh Gunesekara’ (€9,99)